Gov. Sam Brownback presented a summit last Tuesday in Webb Hall, which addressed his plans to increase literacy in grades K-12.
“Literacy does not only include reading, but also writing, listening, speaking and language,” said Don Deshler, professor of special education at the University of Kansas. “There is a noticeable vocabulary gap between higher-income children and lower-income children when they begin school.”
Malbert Smith, president and co-founder of MetaMetrics, an educational based research program, said many students begin school not only with a poverty of income, but also with a “poverty of words.”
Foundations for language and literacy begin at birth, according to the Kansas State Department of Education’s website. The majority of a child’s ability to retain and process knowledge starts in the first three years of his or her life.
“Educators must start very early and concentrate on those young children,” said Barry Downing, founder of The Opportunity Project. “In order to have better performing fourth graders, we must have better performing kindergarteners.”
Brownback has three goals to increase the literacy potential for current students. The first, already established by the Kansas Board of Education, is that Kansas will meet its current goal of 95 percent of students meeting standards on fourth grade reading assessments in 2013. This would demand an increase of 8 percent from this year’s 87 percent.
The second goal is for Kansas to be in the top five states for average fourth grade reading scores in 2014, and the third goal is making Kansas number one in average fourth grade reading scores in 2018.
“Everyone (at the summit) had the same need and we are making sure we have decisions that are effective and follow through with our teachers so they can follow through with those practices,” said Melissa Reed, assistant professor of early childhood and elementary education.
Downing said education is more about “nurture over nature.”
“To transform these failing children into adults who can succeed, (we must look at) those most at risk for school failure,” Downing said.
Teachers must have the proper equipment and the best information availbale in order to effectively teach schoolchildren, said Bill Blokker, president and CEO of Literacy First.
One of the ways Smith said to motivate students to read is to give them a choice of books to read for their summer reading lists. On the website Lexicon.com, Smith said students can create a personalized reading list based on grade, interests and reading ability. When they find a book they want to read, they can also find the closest library that has it.
“We also have to pay attention to the fit between the difficulty of the book and the reader’s ability,” Smith said. “(If it’s) too hard, they get frustrated and disengage.”
In January, a focus group of individuals selected by the governor will address more of the issues surrounding literacy and how to implement them in the Kansas school system.
Susan Welte/The Bulletin